The Apocalypse Now star and the former Brat Packer discuss their sixth film together, the story of a father who pays tribute to his late son by walking the Camino, the Catholic pilgrimage upon which his boy perished.
Emilio Estevez (writer-director-actor)
When did the idea for The Way first come to mind?
It began when I was in the middle of casting a follow-up to Bobby, which was a big, expansive story. Then the funding finally came to a crashing halt around September of 2008, and my father had come here to Spain and walked part of the Camino with my son, and an old actor friend of his. So we began these conversations about making a movie in Spain and I began to work on a draft, using The Wizard of Oz as a template.
With Tom as Dorothy…
Yes, Tom is Dorothy; the Dutchman is the cowardly lion; the girl is the Tin Man with the broken heart; I didn’t have my Scarecrow yet, and then I stumbled upon the book written by Jack Hitt [Off the Road: A Modern Day Walk Down The Pilgrim's Route Into Spain] and thought about using a writer with writer’s block, using Jack himself and his experience on the Camino, as the fourth character. He’s our Scarecrow and when we found the hay bales that you see in the movie along the Camino, I decided that that should be where Tom and the others find him. Initially I had been reluctant to talk to anyone about that Wizard of Oz analogy, but it’s very clear and I don’t think it’s a negative.
You’re making a habit of directing your father: he’s been in three of your movies now…
I know all his fits and phases, like he’s never met a person that he didn’t like, and kindness is an instinct for him. He’ll jump into a crowd, shake everyone’s hand, sign all the autographs, and that’s the wonderful thing about him. But that is also not who Tom is, so I had to keep reminding him that he was not all smiles.
You’d have to remind him that the character was extremely conservative and reserved?
I’d remind him: ‘Tom voted for George Bush. Twice!’ Enough said. Tom is emblematic of how America is viewed by the rest of the world – somewhat cut off.
Apart from working with your father, the subject matter also has a personal appeal for you. In some way, you lost your son to the Camino, right?
Right. I was thinking, ‘What do I know about losing a son on the Camino?’ And then I thought of what happened with my son: he walked the Camino with my father, and he met a girl on the route. She was the daughter of the innkeeper in a place that they stayed on their journey. My son then moved to Spain, married the girl, and has been gone for eight years. So aren’t I more connected to this story than anything I’ve done in my life? It’s not a lament; I’m glad he’s found a life, it’s just that it’s 6,000 miles away!
The idea in The Way of the wayward son: was that in any way coloured by Martin’s relationship with Charlie?
No, not at all. Daniel, my character, is less wayward and more curious. He is curious and doesn’t understand why his father wasn’t.
What are your earliest memories of being on your dad’s film sets?
We went to a few but the first big one was Catch-22. He insisted that we all go to Mexico so we moved there for about six months. To be on that set and see Orson Welles, Jon Voight and Martin Balsam and Mike Nichols. And Art Garfunkel; I knew all of his songs. It was pretty cool to be exposed to that. Growing up we just assumed that everyone lived like this. We were sort of like gypsies; we’d pick up and move and settle in and pick up and move.
Which director that you’ve worked with as an actor has taught you the most about the craft behind the camera?
I did two movies with John Badham who’s a wonderful technician. We did both the Stakeout films and I learned a lot of technique from him. I also had a small part in Mission: Impossible and got to spend a month with Brian De Palma which I loved. I used to go in on my days off and watch how the big boys do it. I go to school every time I make a movie. If you were to look at my last four films, you’d probably think that was four different directors. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing but I’m still evolving, still developing.
I include Charlie in my prayers. I always lift him up. I know the hell he lives in because I was there. So I’m extremely compassionate and understanding.
Martin Sheen (actor)
When did you first walk the Camino?
It was the summer of 2003. We were going to take bikes, horseback, and then rented a car. It was stick-shift. Taylor, my grandson, and I couldn’t drive it. Our friend could drive it and he’d teach one of us to drive while the other one walked. At Burgos, though, we fell in love with this hostel and we stayed a few extra nights and Taylor met the daughter of the guy who owned it. They’ve been together ever since.
You’ve worked with Emilio several times now. Do you like his direction?
He understands my ticks and eccentricities. We’ve worked together half a dozen times now. I remember way back I saw Emilio on the set of a TV show I was doing in LA, and I thought that he’d come to visit me, but he was in the same show!
Are any of your kids more like you than the others?
It’s strange. You know them in different ways. You know when one child is honest and when one isn’t. If there’s something I don’t like when I look at one of my children, it’s usually a reflection of something I don’t like in myself.
How does Charlie’s current behaviour affect your faith?
I include Charlie in my prayers. I always lift him up. I know the hell he lives in because I was there. So I’m extremely compassionate and understanding. The key is on the inside; you can’t force anyone to do anything, good or ill, without their allowing you in. We’ve been through some very difficult times, but we understand what Charlie’s hell is.
Ramon, another of your sons, worked with you on The West Wing…
Ramon had studied dance and singing and he wrote songs and had a professional song-writing partner in Tennessee. His heart wasn’t in acting, though he loved the business, so he’d work as my assistant very often, including during my time on The West Wing.
You knew The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin from The American President, but did you expect the show to do as well as it did?
I knew Aaron was good, and even though I had just a few small scenes in the pilot, I knew it was a special show. We, the actors, just didn’t have the confidence of it working on a commercial station; we thought it belonged on cable because our show wasn’t going to be selling cars or placing products. We didn’t think it was commercial. What’s more we started in 1999, before George W Bush. When he stole the office and was made President was the most difficult time for us because we were so diametrically opposed. In a sense we were a parallel universe, how things could be. We dealt with the same domestic and international issues as the real President’s office. My character, Jed Bartlett, came from a moral frame of reference. He was Catholic and didn’t separate that from his office. He didn’t go and start a war with someone just to prove to his father that he’s a man, which is what our idiot did. If you removed Bush from that office and looked at what we did, what would he be? A mass murderer.
The Way is in cinemas now, click here for more details
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